Y Tý, Lào Cai – A touch on the untouched lands

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This article is written for those who travel to search for the off-beaten paths, the unseen lands of Vietnam where travel bloggers are unlikely to write about it, and where only the locals know.

Y Tý, Hà Giang Province

While Sapa is famous for its trekking and tribe villages, and Ha Giang is well-known for the epic motorbike pass (Ma Phi Leng pass) and spectacular landscapes, Y Tý perhaps has the best combination of attributes among the three. 

Located near the Chinese border with its back leaning on the Nhiu Co San mountain range, Y Tý is known for its beautiful rice terrace fields, stunning landscapes, and authentic hill tribe culture that is unique, well reserved, and untouched. The land remains remote to both local and international tourists mainly because of zigzagging, and unmaintained with small settlements looming in the fog and cloud road condition. If you are adventurous, seek an off-beaten path, and want to avoid mass tourism destinations, Y Tý is a perfect place!

Unique hill tribe villages

There are nearly 800 households in 16 villages shared by Ha Nhi, H’Mong, Dao, and Kinh. The majority of those tribes still live in their traditional houses and retain their traditions and cultures.

Lao Chải village:

It shares the same name as Lao Chai village in Sapa but this village is home to the Ha Nhi ethnic with 76 households. While we can find other tribes situated in different parts of Vietnam, the Ha Nhi ethnic only live in Y Tý which surely creates a signature of Y Tý in terms of culture. Besides their special traditional customs and lifestyles, the Ha Nhi people have built unique architecture for their homes with walls made of thick mud and a sloping short roof covered with grass. Somehow these houses stay strong for many years and contribute to handling inclement weather in the North. 

Hồng Ngài village:

Located at the end of the Lao Cai border and is the furthest village of Y Tý municipality at an altitude of approximately 2000m above sea level. While Lao Chai is home to Ha Nhi people, Hong Ngai is a place of H’Mong with 50 households. Here, villagers are mainly cultivating agriculture to pay the cost of living, especially growing cardamoms. 

Sim San 1, Sim San 2 village:

The name of Sim San villages pays homage to the Red Dao (Dzao) people who lived and cultivated mainly rice and maize many years ago. Due to the weather with an average temperature of 15 °C to 20°C over the year, locals can only do one crop per year. Cultivating rice is a long-standing tradition for Red Dao people here so it eventually leads to the development of winemaking among locals. The locals created and grew special wine brewing methods and yeast with herbs that are rarely found anywhere else. 

Phan Cán Sử village:

A few years ago, Phan Can Su was still an unfamiliar name to the people in Y Tý, not to mention tourists from afar due to its remote location and inadequate road conditions. The village is like a mystery oasis on a cliff with no access to the public except for a few village teachers or several enthusiastic commune officials. Since the road to Phan Can Su was built, many “Phuot Thu” (Vietnamese slang for people who are traveling with their motorbikes to different places, especially remote destinations) have come to experience the epic scenery and hunt for a sea of clouds.

Spectacular rice terrace fields

Besides its unique tribe cultures, Y Tý is also well-known for the beautiful rice terraces that lie high on the edge of mountains. Den Sang and The Pa valley are the two highlight places for rice terraces in Y Tý. While The Pa has thousands of terraced and winding fields stretching for approximately 5 km from A Lu to Thien Sinh, Den Sang covers a massive area over the town and it is located right next to the main road to Y Tý creating a sea of yellow rice terrace fields in the harvest season. The fields are mainly cultivated by Ha Nhi and H’Mong people.

Trekking and hiking in Y Tý

Lảo Thẩn peak:

Situated at an altitude of 2,860, Lao Than is considered the roof of Y Tý and also is in the top 10 of the highest mountains in Vietnam. The mountain is widely known for its magical landscapes up the top where a sea of clouds, sun, and wind come together spectacularly. Staying in the list of top 10 highest mountains but trekking in Lao Than is comparatively easier than the rest of the list peaks. Though that makes the journey not have as much of a challenging thrill, it makes up for the beautiful scenery along the route. The trek normally takes 2 days and 1 night to experience the fullest beauty at sunset and sunrise on top of the mountain.

Best time to visit: October to May

Cú Nhù San mountain

Though not Y Tý’s tallest mountain (rather, it ranks second at 2,662m), Cu Nhu San is one of the region’s worth-to-visit destinations among hikers. Indeed, If you come here in the spring, in March, there will be thousands of “Do Quyen” flowers (Rhododendron) in full bloom colorfully in white, yellow, pink to red. It is recommended to do a 2day and 1 night for the fullest experience. 

Trekking through tribe villages in Y Tý

Unlike the trek in Sapa which is popular and well-known, the trekking route through tribal villages in Y Tý is an exclusive trekking route created by ethnic people and local experts. Starting from Mo Phu Chai (home to H’Mong & Ha Nhi people), go uphill to Trung Chai & Phan Can Su (H’Mong village). When we hike along the mountain edge to get to Ma Cha Va village (considered the highest village in Vietnam) you will see a spectacular panorama of Y Tý that covers endless green mountains, herbs and rice terrace fields, and ethnic villages. The trek will end at sunset time in Ngai Thau village. 

As mentioned, the trek is unpopular and untouched so if you are keen, please contact a local expert for advice and further information.

Market and festival

Y Tý Market, cultural beauty and specialty of the northwest region

Similar to its stunning landscapes and rice terrace fields, Y Tý market will surprise you with the beauty of its authenticity. The market happens only once every Saturday but it gathers the crowds from all villages around the region including Ha Nhi, H’Mong, and Red Dao (Dzao). You can find anything that is locally produced in the town, from agricultural products such as potatoes, vegetables, nuts, and rice, hand-embroidered brocade dresses and scarves to wild mushrooms and berries or other stuff handpicked in the forest. Since the food and vegetables are homemade and home-growing using natural ingredients, they don’t possess a perfect look like the one from mass manufactured product lines.

Khô Già Già festival (Lễ hội Khô Già Già)

Kho Gia Gia is the oldest and largest spiritual ritual of the Ha Nhi tribe in the Y Tý region that is held annually in July (June in the lunar calendar). The festival is a unique feature in the belief of worshiping agricultural gods, forest gods, and water gods imbued with the identity of the Ha Nhi people wishing for a bumper crop, and healthy and well-fed life. Besides that, the festival is also an occasion for the community to express and exchange their beliefs of community solidarity, and for the youth to commemorate their ancestors and elderly people. 

How to get to Y Tý

In the last few years, many private bus companies have offered direct bus routes from Hanoi straight to Sapa instead of transiting in Lao Cai while taking the train. However, Y Tý is a different case, we have to catch another transportation from either Sapa or Lao Cai to get to Y Tý.

From Hanoi to Sapa or Lào Cai

There are plenty of sleeping buses, limousines, or trains from Hanoi to Lao Cai. The buses normally depart at My Dinh bus station, the train is at Hanoi train station.

From Sapa or Lào Cai to Y Tý

Although Y Tý is only 70 km away from Lao Cai, the journey can take approximately 4-6 hours by bus depending on how many stops you want to take along the way (mostly for the spectacular scenery). Renting a motorbike in SaPa to Lao Cai is another option but make sure you are good at driving because the road itself and the road condition could be a challenge.

NOTE: International tourists have to have a border permit that is authorized by the Vietnamese government to visit Y Tý. Please contact us for more information and advice.

Reviewed by

Diep Van

Phone: +84901166884

Email: diep.van@ftripvietnam.com

Diep Van

Founder & Photography Guide

Specialties: Culture, landscape, portrait, hiking, active and adventurous tour

Besides my unlimited passion for traveling, a professional tour guide for over a decade, I have been taking photographs since sitting at Hanoi of the University of Culture in the early 2000s. Photography started as a hobby but it was seriously taken due to my work relations and my significant passion for the beauty of our world, especially in Southeast Asian parts such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar.

Within a few years of taking photographs, my works began to be recognized by many reliable international publications such as AFAR Travel, The Times, and The Daily Telegraph newspaper. In addition, I continuously add to my growing profile by winning numerous major awards: 3rd Position of The Independent Photographer 2018, 1st Position of Amateur Photographer of the year 2018, Grand Prize Winner of the AFAR Travel Photography 2019, and a Gold Award of San Francisco Bay International Photography 2020.

I photograph a wide variety of subjects, from travel to landscapes to street scenes. I enjoy documenting the East’s rich cultural heritage and its land soaked in glorious sunrise or sunset light in remote and secluded spots. And, I am very happy to share my knowledge and experience with you. You can visit Luminousvietnamtour to explore tour!

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